Human Genetics

Human genetics lab

The Program in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Michigan is an interdisciplinary gateway program that coordinates admissions and the first year of Ph.D. studies for 14 department programs, including Human Genetics.

PIBS offers you the flexibility and convenience of applying to any of our participating programs through one application. We invite you to thoroughly explore Human Genetics and the other 13 programs before selecting your top preferences when you apply.

Program Overview

The Department of Human Genetics at the University of Michigan was founded by Dr. James V. Neel in 1956 and was the first human genetics department in the United States. The initial focus of the department was human heredity, and this view has grown in breadth and depth through the genomic and post-genomic eras.

Our faculty include AAAS, National Academy and Institute of Medicine Fellows, Howard Hughes Investigators, and winners of University and Medical School teaching awards. Interactions among students and faculty ensure a comprehensive foundation in the many aspects of genetics, from molecular mechanisms of disease to population diversity. Collaborations within the department, across the University, nation-wide and internationally emphasize the crucial role of genetics in addressing global problems in health and disease.

A central mission of HG is to train students to confront these problems scientifically through a rigorous but flexible foundation in coursework and research.

Research Areas

Graduate students have the opportunity to carry out interdisciplinary genetics research in diverse areas.

Current research topics focus on:

  • Cancer genetics
  • Developmental genetics
  • DNA recombination and repair
  • Epigenetics
  • Evolutionary and population genetics
  • Gene structure, function, and regulation
  • Genetic mapping of complex traits and diseases
  • Medical genetics
  • Molecular basis of Mendelian Disorders
  • Neurogenetics
  • Statistical genetics and genetic epidemiology
  • Stem Cells

The multidisciplinary nature of this research is demonstrated by both the Genetics and Genome Science Training Grants, supported by NIH for 39 and 21 years, respectively. The Genetics Training Grant is led by HG, with faculty and student participation from five other Ph.D. programs within PIBS, while the Genome Science Training Grant is co-led by HG, with faculty and student participation from six other Ph.D. programs across the University of Michigan campus.

HG students and faculty also participate in training programs in Bioinformatics, Cancer Biology, Organogenesis, and Hearing, Balance, and Chemical Senses.

Explore our faculty.

Program Requirements


The core training in HG consists of courses in molecular genetics, human disease genetics, and quantitative and statistical genetics. Additional courses are selected from within HG and throughout the University to strengthen one or more of the core areas, according to each student’s interests, background and research specialization.

In addition to the core courses, students participate in the weekly HG student seminar, in which they learn to analyze and present research literature before the greater genetics community, including faculty and students. In the second year, HG students take Current Topics, a small class that focuses in detail on critical analysis of selected research topics and methods, with student-led presentations and discussion.

The interactive and interdisciplinary nature of HG is also highlighted by “short courses” on cutting-edge topics presented by high-profile outside speakers selected by the students.

Preliminary Examination

Students take the Preliminary Examination at the end of the Winter Term or during the Spring Term of their second year. The exam is an oral defense of a written proposal that is not their thesis topic. Student advance to candidacy after the preliminary examination and completing all course requirements.

Teaching Requirement

Most HG students spend at least one term as a teaching assistant, generally in their second or third year. Additional teaching opportunities are available through several outreach programs.

Expected Length of Program

After completion of required coursework, the doctoral dissertation is completed generally within 5 years of graduate study.

Student Interests

The Human Genetics department includes more than 20 Ph.D. students, 22 primary faculty, and 17 joint faculty whose primary appointments represent six additional departments. Six to eight students join our program each year. The department is in an active growth phase with several new faculty added over the last few years and more recruitment planned.

Our students have received national fellowships and awards for their research, as well as the University of Michigan Distinguished Dissertation Award, the highest honor the University confers to recognize graduate student accomplishments.

Students get to know faculty and their research through numerous informal events throughout the year, including the HG Retreat in the fall and the Neel Lecture Symposium in the spring. The Department of Human Genetics sponsors a seminar series of external speakers, short courses with several speakers on a related theme, and a weekly trainee research seminar. There are a variety of informal special interest groups that offer opportunities for students to present their research results. They also host a departmental retreat in the fall, which provides an opportunity for students and faculty to get to know one another.

Career Expectations

Over 180 HG graduates have gone on to successful careers in academic research and teaching, biotechnology, and scientific consulting, among other professions.